Speech and Language for the Adopted Child

The number of foreign adoptions in the US continues to grow every year. Children who are adopted may be at greater risk for speech and/or language difficulties. Occasionally, this is secondary to a congenital disorder and, at times, the difficulties are secondary to the abrupt change in the child’s primary language. It is important to be aware and know what to expect with an adopted child.  

When Should An Adopted Child Start Speaking? adoption and speech

Speech/language should be closely monitored for the first 12 months. This is approximately enough time for a child to “catch-up” with their native speaking peers if adopted before age 2-2 ½. Adopted children that are older than 2 ½ will often catch up quickly as well; however, it may take a longer period of time to acquire the language.

How “Age” At Adoption Makes An Impact On Speech:

The orphanage conditions have an impact on the exposure and quality of language and interaction that your child received during these very important years, therefore, the longer the child was exposed, the longer amount of time the child may require to readjust. Unfortunately, some research by Gunnar & Quevedo (2007 ) indicates that prolonged exposure in these orphanages may have permanent effects on stress that can impact the memory storage and retrieval areas of the brain associated with language. The younger the child is when adopted, the better outcomes predicted.

Children adopted during the preschool years have minds that are uniquely prepared  to absorb language, regardless of their birth language. In other words, young brains are primed for the acquisition of ANY language, regardless of rules or sounds or where they were born.

It is important to be aware that assessment of speech and language for a recently adopted child is difficult, therefore, it requires an individualized approach. Many standardized (or normal) tests are based on the scores of native English or Spanish speakers and are not for use with children who speak different languages as the results are invalid representations: you cannot test a child on the sound ‘ay’ if there is no ‘ay’ in their native language and other such rules.

Close monitoring of a child during the months after adoption is an excellent idea to determine potential speech and language difficulties. Speech-language pathologists should be consulted to determine if the child is reaching expected norms for appropriate development.